Long way still to go to stamp out

Trans­gen­der is­sues are broached in up­dated school guide­lines but is it enough to make these stu­dents feel safe in New Zealand schools? Ad­vo­cates say more needs to be done. Re­porters Jess Lee and Rose Caw­ley dis­cuss di­ver­sity with Auck­land schools.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

Some stu­dents are not go­ing to the toi­let all day be­cause they don’t feel safe us­ing school bath­rooms.

Rain­bowYOUTH ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor Aych McArdle says cases like this are a daily oc­cur­rence and trans­pho­bic bul­ly­ing is a re­al­ity in Kiwi schools.

Gen­der neu­tral uni­forms, uni­sex toi­lets, wel­com­ing same-sex part­ners at school balls and in­clu­sive sports teams are all rec­om­mended in new sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion guide­lines.

It is the first time the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion guide has been re­vised since 2002.

McArdle says schools need to cre­ate safe, in­clu­sive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for all of their stu­dents and adopt­ing these guide­lines is a start.

‘‘You will have queer and gen­der di­verse stu­dents at your school – they ex­ist – and ev­ery­one in­volved in the school com­mu­nity – teach­ers, prin­ci­pals, par­ents, stu­dents – is re­spon­si­ble for that en­vi­ron­ment to be a safe space for all stu­dents.’’

Four out of ev­ery 100 stu­dents re­ported that they were ei­ther trans­gen­der or that they were not sure of their gen­der in a 2012 sur­vey of 8500 sec­ondary school stu­dents.

More than half of trans­gen­der stu­dents were afraid some­one at school would hurt or bother them.

Post Pri­mary Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (PPTA) pres­i­dent An­gela Roberts says re­spond­ing with guide­lines isn’t ac­tu­ally go­ing to change this.

‘‘The guide­lines will not be­come a re­al­ity un­less schools are sup­ported to have those tricky con­ver­sa­tions with their com­mu­ni­ties.’’

She says PPTA and or­gan­i­sa­tions like Rain­bowYOUTH have stepped in to fill the gap by run­ning work­shops to ed­u­cate staff and stu­dents.

‘‘It’s not just how they treat their rain­bow youth it is how they en­cour­age a cul­tural shift amongst their col­leagues and also amongst their kids.’’

A num­ber of schools are lead­ing the way with in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ments but it’s a long way from what Taine Polk­inghorne ex­pe­ri­enced seven years ago.

The Rain­bow Youth board trans* rep­re­sen­ta­tive says his last two years of school were hor­ri­ble.

Polk­inghorne, who was born fe­male, came out as a trans-man when he was about 20 years old.

‘‘The school that I went to wasn’t par­tic­u­larly ac­cept­ing of peo­ple that were dif­fer­ent,’’ he says.

‘‘The bul­ly­ing preva­lence in schools is as­tro­nom­i­cal for sex­ual and gen­der di­verse peo­ple and I think that schools re­ally need to take an ac­tive ap­proach to squash­ing that out.’’

This needs to in­clude call­ing kids out when they use the wrong lan­guage and pro­vid­ing safe places for kids to get changed dur­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, he says.

‘‘That would make such a big dif­fer­ence in terms of our pro­duc­tiv­ity be­cause then we’re not wor­ry­ing about who’s go­ing to punch us in the face or call us some­thing nasty so we can’t con­cen­trate for the rest of the day.’’

A school that cel­e­brates its di­ver­sity is Mt Roskill Gram­mar.

Head of guid­ance Mar­garet Hoogen­doorn has seen a com­plete shift in the last 20 years.

‘‘Trans­gen­der stu­dents would very much stay un­der the radar and tran­si­tion af­ter sec­ondary school,’’ she says.

‘‘Now we have some stu­dents who en­rol at year 9 and have al­ready tran­si­tioned.’’

Hoogen­doorn says be­ing proac­tive is key.

‘‘Ig­no­rance fu­els prej­u­dice so if you want to fight prej­u­dice you have to ed­u­cate.’’

A teacher re­quested she at­tend a class where a

trans­gen­der stu­dent had been ver­bally mocked, Hoogen­doorn says.

‘‘The stu­dents had an op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions openly to the trans­gen­der stu­dent. This stu­dent was coura­geously an­swer­ing those ques­tions. It has com­pletely shifted how the class treats the stu­dent.’’

Hoogen­doorn says she is aware of six stu­dents who have com­fort­ably tran­si­tioned while at school.

‘‘I of­ten say, ‘ You are not alone, you are part of a move­ment of many hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple across the world’.’’

Or­gan­is­ing meet­ings with trans­gen­der stu­dents from other schools helps them widen their gaze, she says.

A trans­gen­der stu­dent at the school says teach­ers have al­ways been sup­port­ive.

‘‘In year 9, when I re­quested a gen­der-neu­tral chang­ing space to my PE teacher, she im­me­di­ately made the uni­sex dis­abled toi­let avail­able.’’

OUT­Line NZ gen­eral man­ager Trevor Eas­ton says the free phone sup­port and coun­selling ser­vice has re­ceived calls from trans­gen­der kids as young as 7.

‘‘That area of the com- mu­nity is grow­ing as far as need for sup­port, help and coun­selling,’’ he says.

‘‘It is more of an ed­u­ca­tion for other peo­ple rather than the young per­son them­selves. They are usu­ally quite clued up on what is go­ing on. They just need sup­port han­dling other peo­ple.’’

Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion head of sec­tor en­able­ment and sup­port Ka­t­rina Casey says the min­istry is up­dat­ing the bul­ly­ing preven­tion guide to in­clude sex­ual and gen­der di­ver­sity.

‘‘We know that gay, les­bian and trans­gen­der young peo­ple can face a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment at school, in­clud­ing bul­ly­ing.

‘‘Our role is to sup­port and guide schools to de­velop a school cul­ture that is in­clu­sive for all stu­dents.’’

Casey says there is more work to be done.


‘‘Feed­back from some MOE re­gional staff is that they need more guid­ance in this area [pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment] so that they can bet­ter sup­port schools and stu­dents when is­sues arise.’’

Gen­der neu­tral uni­forms, uni­sex toi­lets, wel­com­ing same-sex part­ners at school balls and in­clu­sive sports teams are all rec­om­mended in new sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion guide­lines.

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